Many sports fields and parks have not seen the same amount of usage this year because of health concerns. This situation, which can bring many challenges, also gives turf managers a unique opportunity to do more involved projects to promote the health and conditions of their turf. One of those maintenance practices is aeration.
Depending on the area of the country, generally the most popular time for aeration is the fall, although many field managers also aerate in the spring. With many fields vacant right now and with the definitive long-term benefits of aeration, this might be the perfect time to do it.
Ron Scheffler, senior product manager for Ryan, has some tips on how to make the most of the aeration process:
Check the soil
Aeration loosens compacted soil so that water, air and nutrients can get down to the roots. One way you can determine if your soil is compacted is to throw a screwdriver down into the ground from about waist-high, tip down. If the screwdriver sticks, the aeration process will take less effort. If the screwdriver bounces away, the soil is severely compacted and will need aggressive aeration.
Mark all obstacles
The type of tines and the depth of aeration depend on what you are trying to accomplish with your aeration. Regardless of your tine choice and depth, make sure to mark your irrigation heads, power, and any other lines running just beneath the surface so that you don’t cause any damage.
Find the right equipment
Aerators come in a vast array of options, from tow-behind to walk-behind to stand-on models. For smaller properties, a walk-behind aerator will likely give you the best results and easiest maneuvering. For large properties such as sports fields, tow-behind aerators are the most efficient. However, consider giving a stand-on aerator a try. They take less of a toll on your body, maneuver easily, provide precise and easily adjustable aeration while also covering more ground than a walk-behind – and also don’t require a tractor like a tow-behind aerator.
Aerate before you fertilize
The order of your maintenance practices is also important for peak effectiveness. If you’re planning to aerate and put down fertilizer/herbicide, make sure to aerate first. Aerating after an herbicide application can reduce the chemical barrier formed by the herbicide, giving weeds the opportunity to germinate. Applying fertilizer after aeration helps the turfgrass compete against weeds. Water after aeration, too, particularly in areas where drought and high temperatures are common. Finally, if you are planning any overseeding or inter-seeding, following aeration is a great time to put seed down as it will get better soil to seed contact.
Rake away the cores
Criticism of aeration often comes as a response to the presence of the “cores” of turf that the aeration tines pull out of the ground. In sports fields or on golf courses, those cores can sometimes impede play. Use a power rake to break up the cores to improve the look of your field right after aeration.
We all have to adapt our processes these days. If your sports field or park isn’t seeing much foot traffic lately, it might be a perfect time to aerate and get ready for a beautiful fall.